Archive for the 'Fashion, Clothes and Life' Category

A Woman’s Work

As women we feel obligated to achieve the 1950s stereotype of perfect womanhood; immaculate dress, neat hair; cooking, cleaning, doing absolutely everything, and with a smile.  Women in the past had to be a monolith of effortless domestic strength and aptitude, but modern women shouldn’t feel inadequate by comparison, and should remember that most of those 1950s women didn’t have outside jobs. Their sole employment was to run their home and family, meaning that they had the time and energy to do it well.   

I am constantly amazed by the amount of vigour my 76 year-old grandmother still finds to spend every day ironing socks, and tea towels, and underpants, when I don’t even iron proper clothes.  As modern women, we have full-time jobs with very long hours, and the exhaustion of commuting, and far greater responsibilities and demands on our emotional and physical resources than in the past.  It should be considered an achievement if we have the energy to come home from work and cook something that isn’t a ready-meal, let alone do it in heels. 

My view of the domestic stereotype recently changed, and I realised that perhaps the past wasn’t as imbalanced as we think.  My Grandmother was telling me that my Grandad would never be expected to cook a meal, or pick up a hoover, or change a nappy, because those were women’s jobs.  However, as a woman, she would never be expected to take the bins out, or mow the lawn, or clean the gutters, or kill a spider.  Men’s jobs. The partnership was more equal than we think, it was just that men and women had more clearly defined roles, with each doing what was expected of them, and keeping up their end of the partnership bargain to take care of the other, both part of the household clockwork.

Whilst there were indeed immense pressures placed on women to create a picture-perfect, and spotlessly clean home, and perfectly turned-out family, there were also equally great pressures on men when it came to meeting masculine roles and expectations, and being the sole provider for the family.  This meant that women of the past weren’t challenged by many of the burdens that modern women face.  The man earned the money, and paid the bills, and mowed the lawn, and looked after the car, and the woman looked after the home and family.

Modern women, now that we stay single/unmarried for longer, and tend to live by ourselves for longer, are burdened with both feminine and masculine responsibilities, and we have to do it all by ourselves.  Even when we are in a partnership, the divide of responsibilities is more equally shared, and modern women are expected to change the tyres, and earn the money, as well as have a perfectly cooked meal on the table, and bath the children, and wear the heels and lipstick that make us attractive.  We have to kill the spiders.

Is it any wonder that in 2019 women come home from work, and collapse on the sofa; wearing pyjamas, and eating pizza, rather than cooking a casserole in 5 inch heels, and taffeta?  There just isn’t enough energy in one body to be both man and woman, and do everything all the time.  As modern human beings, we’re just trying to get through the day.  If we don’t get assaulted on the train home, that’s a victory, forget Victoria Sponge and Mac Ruby Woo on a Wednesday night.  We’re doing our best.  This goes for men, as well.  Men are coming home from a long day’s work and dealing with bathtime, and bedtime stories, and sharing the cooking, instead of reading the newspaper in an armchair by the fire until dinner is on the table.  The 21st Century has been hard on both sexes, and demanded more of all of us.  Women know where the stopcock is, and men know who Mary Berry is.

The double-edged sword of equality, and feminism is that we have greater respect, higher wages, more freedom, more understanding, and a platform to speak that we didn’t have before, but we also have more responsibilities.  We have to open our own doors.  Fighting to be equal doesn’t just mean that your boss can’t call you sweetheart, it means that you unclog the drains instead of waiting for your husband.  Perhaps we didn’t think this through?

As much as I am grateful for being an enlightened, modern woman; single, and earning my own money, not answerable to anybody, able to make my own decisions, I do sometimes wonder whether they had the right idea back then.  Perhaps it would be quite nice to stay at home all day, putting lipstick on, and stirring a casserole, and then telling my husband when he comes home from work that the bins need seeing to, and the car needs filling up with petrol.  Oh, and there’s a wasp’s nest in the garage with your name on it, I’m off to read Harry Potter to the children.

Of-course, equality is a wonderful, and very hard-won thing.  You only have to look at countries who haven’t quite achieved it yet to appreciate how fortunate we are to be ‘woke’ in the UK.  Women are completely free to be badasses in the home, and in the workplace.  We can be boss, and mum, and still make a trifle with one hand, while paying the electricity bill online, and breastfeeding a child.  Women have infinite resources, and therefore infinite value.  It is simplistic to think that those women of years gone by were wasted, and unchallenged.  Running a home, and looking after a family so totally, and devotedly, takes enormous energy, strength, and mental acuity.  The housekeeping standards that were held are something we can only aspire to, and learn from.  I wish I had the time and energy to iron my socks, and hoover right into the corners, but I just don’t… but those women did. 

However, we must think of all the women over the years who would have been lawyers, and doctors, and engineers, and pilots, and members of parliament.  Many women missed their chance to change the world because they were only allowed to give birth, and change nappies, and make drinks for their husband’s colleagues.  All that wasted talent, and potential.  That is the true importance of equality; what could have been, and what might be.      

We would be living in a very different world if those women had been given the chance to do something else, something more.  Laws would be different, economies would be different.  I often think that our history as mankind until very recently has been governed by men, and those men made decisions in a very different way to women, based on violence.  History was decided with wars, and bombs, and guns, and tanks, and murder, and fighting, and terror, and executions.  Violence and death have dominated our progress as human beings.  Women would have done things very differently.  Women would not commit mass genocide.  Women would not invent mustard gas for the trenches.  Women would not build Auschwitz.  Women would not make men fight lions in arenas for entertainment.  Women would not nail Jesus to a cross, and watch him bleed.  I believe this is because women create life, and feel it growing inside them.  They feed life at their breast.  They also know how precarious and vulnerable life is.  They feel it disappear.  They see it slip away, carried from their sight in a dirty bundle.  Women know the true value of life, and so would not be so careless with it.  When you have waited for life every month, and every month felt the crushing blow of its absence with the stark reminder of blood, you would not invent the Kalashnikov/AK-47.  When you have loved a tiny life for nine months, and felt its every movement deep within your body, and planned every moment of its future, and then watched it being pulled away from you; cold and lifeless, you would not invent the electric chair to punish murderers.  You would not walk into a music arena in Manchester and explode nails at children dancing to their favourite song.  The world would be very different if it were governed by the people who understand how incredibly valuable a life is. 

How different the world would be if every nation were governed, and protected by a mother, who would nurture every life at her breast, and feel every loss as her own.

This Woman’s Work, Kate Bush.

Pray God you can cope
I stand outside this woman’s work
This woman’s world
Ooh, it’s hard on the man
Now his part is over
Now starts the craft of the father

I know you’ve got a little life in you yet
I know you’ve got a lot of strength left
I know you’ve got a little life in you yet
I know you’ve got a lot of strength left

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things I should’ve said
That I never said
All the things we should’ve done
Though we never did
All the things I should’ve given
But I didn’t
Oh, darling, make it go
Make it go away

Give me these moments back
Give them back to me
Give me that little kiss
Give me your hand

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things we should’ve said
That we never said
All the things we should’ve done
Though we never did
All the things that you needed from me
All the things that you wanted for me
All the things that I should’ve given
But I didn’t
Oh, darling, make it go away
Just make it go away now

The Anachronistic-Office-Drone

It’s not often that I feel out-of-place in life, but I did tonight. My Friday Night commute was disrupted when my usual train was cancelled (“Shortage of Train Crew”), and I had to get the posh London-Virgin Train home from Liverpool to Runcorn. This is a 10 minute journey (and train) that has been part of my life for Saturday shopping trips, and evenings at the Theatre since I was 11, and is now my journey to work every morning, and home every evening. Tonight, with the combination of it being Friday Night, and the previous train being cancelled, the train was absolutely packed full, but I did get a seat. It was mainly full of trendy hipsters travelling back to London; with their cutting-edge clothes, and bottles of water, working at laptops, and talking on the phone with their alien southern accents. To be frank, they were cool, and they wore patterned trousers. I suddenly became very aware of myself, and my Office-Drone Uniform.

I’ve been an Office Drone since I was 17 years-old, and for all of those 16 years I’ve been a firm subscriber to the Office Drone Uniform. Interchangeable for men and women, the Uniform consists strictly of: mac / tench coat, pencil dress / skirt and blouse / suit, and a very particular type of sensible handbag. Either heels, or ballet flats / loafers, depending on (a) how far you have to walk, and (b) how strong your insteps are. The Office Drone can also be identified by their extremely well-developed calf muscles. I am comfortable with being part of this breed.

Over years of working in Manchester, Chester, and Liverpool, I have grown to love the daily routine of bumping shoulders with the same people every morning, and every evening, although never acknowledging them, and then walking as part of a mass through the City Centre in the morning. The early morning in the City belongs to the Suits, before the normal people are awake, and take over the City with their shopping, and everyday lives, the Suits walk through the quiet, clean streets, when everywhere smells of coffee, and fresh bread, and bacon, and newspaper. They stop at Starbucks, or wherever they get their morning coffee, and croissant. They carry umbrellas, and newspapers, and blue paper bags from Cafe Nero. They walk the same route, same streets, same corners, same shortcuts every morning, and they arrive at the same Office to start their day. They repeat the routine at lunchtime, and in the evening. I am very happy being one of these people, and part of the morning drudge, carrying my coffee, stepping over the same puddles. I love that we are all dressed the same, and can identify each other. It has always made me feel like a character from a John le Carre Novel. I feel like George Smiley every morning, and I love it.

Roald Dahl wrote a number of short stories about commuters, and how we stand in the same spot on the platform every day, and get into the same carriage, and sit usually around the same few seats. He wrote about how we never speak to each other, but notice instantly if somebody is missing one morning. He understood everything I love about commuting, and what makes our working lives and daily drudgery a little more meaningful.

But, on the train tonight, the other thing that I felt was provincial. I became acutely aware of something that has always been at the back of mind; that London is another Country, separate to the rest of us. These hipsters with their patterned trousers were totally different from the hipsters in Manchester. It’s hard to define, but it’s something about the way they speak, and the way their hair falls; they’re sharper, harder, more aware of the world, but a different world. It reminded me how narrow, and un-urban my life is, and how anybody who lives outside London is comparably an uncultured hillbilly. We’re basically the Waltons.

All of this lead me to think that perhaps this breed is being left behind by the modern world. As the new generation takes over, with their beards, and grime, and social media, all of the old stereotypes of old-school English castes are being fazed out, and slowly disappearing with the last generation, which makes me very sad. Two generations ago, there were very distinct social pidgeon-holes, and people fitted very neatly into one of a few moulds, but they are being overtaken by new and trendy social identities. It makes me very happy that I am a living part of one of the last castes to die out, and I hope we can keep our Le Carre trench coats, and umbrellas firmly in place, and let our meek flags fly. See you at Starbucks in the morning, I’ll be the one behind The Times.

Victoria Wood – Let’s Do It: The Ballad of Barry and Frieda

VW

Victoria Wood – Let’s Do It: The Ballad of Barry and Frieda

Freda and Barry sat one night
The sky was clear, the stars were bright
The wind was soft, the mood was up
Freda drained her cocoa cup

She licked her lips, she felt sublime
She switched off Gardener’s Question Time
Barry cringed in fear and dread
When Freda grabbed his tie and said

Let’s do it, let’s do it, do it while the mood is right
I’m feeling appealing, I’ve really got an appetite
I’m on fire with desire
I could handle half the tenors in the male voice choir
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I don’t believe in too much sex
This fashion for passion makes me a nervous wreck
No derision, my decision –
I’d rather watch McCalmans on the television
I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight

But she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it till our hearts go boom
Go native, creative, we’ll do it in the living room
It’s folly, it’s jolly
Bend me over backwards on the hostess trolley
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, my heavy-breathing days are gone
I’m older, I’m colder, it’s other things that turn me on
Yes, I’m boring, I’m imploring
I want to read this catalogue on vinyl flooring
I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Come on, let’s do it, let’s do it, have a crazy night of love
I’ll strip bare, I’ll just wear stilettos and an oven glove
Don’t give me no palaver
Dangle from the wardrobe in your balaclava
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I know I’ll only get it wrong
No angle for me to dangle, my arms have never been that strong
Stop shouting, stop pouting
You know I pulled a muscle when I did that grouting
I can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

But she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it, have a night of old romance
Poetic, frenetic, this could be your last big chance
Read Milton, eat Stilton
Roll with gay abandon on a tufted Wilton
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Then he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I’ve got such a lot of jobs on hand
Don’t grouse around the house, I’ve got a busy evening planned
Stop nagging, I’m flagging,
You know as well as me that the pipes need lagging
Can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it while I’m really in the mood
It’s years and years since I got you even semi-nude
Get drastic, gymnastic
Wear the baggy Y-fronts with the loose elastic
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

But he said
I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I must refuse to get undressed
It’s chilly, I feel silly to go without my thermal vest
Don’t choose me, don’t use me
Mum sent a note saying you must excuse me
Can’t do it, can’t do it tonight

Then she said
Let’s do it, let’s do it, I really absolutely must
I won’t exempt you, I want to tempt you
I want to drive you mad with lust
No caution, just contortions
Smear an avocado on my lower portions
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Be mighty, be flighty
Come and melt the buttons on my flame-proof nightie
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

Not meekly, not bleakly
Beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight

How I Feel about David Bowie

Bowie

 

It has taken me a long time to start writing about Bowie.  I wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say.

For most of the last two weeks, since his death on 10th January 2016, I have been listening to his music, and continually watching Youtube footage, and generally Googling images of him.  That in itself is not unusual; I very often spend my morning train journey to work listening to one of his albums or another.
But since his death, the songs have taken on new meaning.  I now listen to every note, every off-vowell, and every hitch of breath, with renewed ardour.  I look for it all.  Now that this sparkling commodity has run out, and there will be no more Bowie, his music has become all the more precious.  Whilst in some sense, Bowie has become a non-renewable energy; so fortifying and affirmative to so many, and now sadly run out, he will never really run out.  It is such a blessing of modern life, and the electronic age that we all hate, that generations to come, in fifty or a hundred years, will be able listen to those same off-vowels, and hitches of breath.  Our great, great grand-children, long after we are gone, will discover Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane, and will laugh at the lines in Jene Genie, and choke at that final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide, when he announced that Ziggy would never perform live again.

Those songs, and recordings, and shaky video footage, and photographs can’t be extinguished.  They live on, where mortal Bowie can’t, as a wealth of fortification for people who haven’t been born yet.

For me, Bowie’s message is; you’re okay.  David Bowie says you’re okay.  It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, whether you dance like a square; you’re okay.  “Hey Babe, your hair’s alright.”  Even though your face is a mess.  At those moments when you feel helpless, and like your life is out of control, and your body doesn’t look the way you feel it should, just remember that you’re okay.  David Bowie knows what’s inside you, and knows you’re a good person.

As an artist, what I find remarkable about Bowie is that despite his persona being ostensibly superficial; constantly changing, all glitter and sequins, and smoke and mirrors, it was all him.  Popstars nowadays are the public face of an army; in front of talented people behind the scenes who write the songs, and mechanically engineer the sound, and their voice, and promote them, and produce their outfits, find their clothes, get them dressed, style their hair, perfectly apply their make-up, and everything about them.

The classic image of a popstar sitting in a chair with people all around, producing a perfect appearance, is all too true.

However, everything you saw about Bowie was himself.  He dyed his own hair bright ginger over the sink. He applied his own make-up, even those distinctive images of Ziggy, and Aladdin Sane, with lightning bolts, and glittering alien foreheads.  He created every inch of those mystical, iconic characters, and the images which have become integral to our culture.

When you listen to one of Bowie’s records, every instrument is played by him.  Read the credits on an album sleeve; vocals, guitar, piano, saxophone, harmonica.  All him.

Bowie didn’t have a team of choreographers, and songwriters, and musicians (apart from Mick Ronson), and stylists, and hairdressers, and wardrobe assistants.  It was just him.

For me, that is the mark of genius, and true talent.  He was a star, with no help from anybody else.  Just him.

The other thing about Bowie is that he wasn’t copying anybody.  Uniquely in the music business, he didn’t follow in anybody’s footsteps.  He didn’t tribute history; he made it.  As Tracey Thorne says in her book Naked at the Albert Hall, Bowie invented whole new vowels, not content with those already available.

Many people, over the last two weeks, have commented on how personal this loss feels.  On the morning it happened, I opened my eyes, reached for my phone, and the newsflash had just appeared.  I immediately went in to tell my mother, and her reaction was exactly like I had told her about a family member.  There was no moment when she thought I might be joking, or it could be a hoax.  Just immediate grief.

David Bowie has always been in my family, as my parents were both enormous fans, and passed that love on to me.  I grew up listening to his songs.  When I was in my teens, we called our German Shepherd Ziggy.

Two years ago, I left home in the North at midnight, and travelled down to London with my Mother, on National Express overnight.  We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and stood in a queue of people for over two hours, all waiting to see the David Bowie Is… exhibition.  The tickets had been sold out for six months, so we were risking getting tickets on speck, as a small number are released every morning for that day.  As we approached the final stretch, with around five people between us and ticket desk, they brought down a barrier, and announced that tickets were sold out for that day.  After approximately two minutes of being distraught, we signed up for an annual membership to the V & A, and walked straight in. The experience of seeing his outfits, and shoes, and hand-written lyrics was something I will never forget, and one of the most special experiences of my life.

Part of the exhibition was a screen showing the video for Heroes.  I just stood, mesmerised, and watched it through around four times; watching his face come forward out of the dark background, and listening to his cracking, imperfect voice.  When it cracks, I can hardly handle it.  As Caitlin Moran says it perfectly, it’s like breaking ice.

My favourite part of the whole exhibition was a tiny scrap of tissue with his red lipstick blots on. It seemed so human, and at the same time so extravagant and glamorous. It was like looking at him.

The culmination of the exhibition was a circular room, with 180 degree screens, around 60 feet tall, screening his final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide at Hammersmith.  I had never seen it before.  I just stood there, with my mother, for around 40 minutes, watching it over and over.  That performance is unlike anything I have ever seen.  It’s unlike anything anybody has ever done.  Charisma like that, and a voice which is so flawed and imperfect, but absolutely breath-taking, and when the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile, like he’s pleased with himself at his own lyrics.  It’s magic.  I came home from London, and watched that video on repeat, solidly, for two weeks. I was even watching it silently, when I was talking to a Client on the phone in work.

Since the news broke, I have looked to Caitlin Moran.  As with all matters in life, I can always trust that she will perfectly articulate exactly what I want to say myself, but can’t.

In her Times piece, Caitlin opened;

“What a lucky planet we were to have had David Bowie. So lucky. Imagine how vast all of space and time is — how endless and empty, how black and cold. Imagine a tracking shot across the universe, nothing happening nearly everywhere, nearly all the time. And then, as it scrolls past our galaxy, you can hear, quiet at first, but getting louder as we close in, Rebel Rebel, coming from our Planet, from our Country, in our time, playing on tinny transistor radios, in a million bedrooms, as a whole generation, and the next, and the next, straighten their spines, and feel their pulses rise, and say; “This.  This is how I feel.  Or at least, this is how I feel now.  Now I’ve heard this”

And that’s how I feel.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000px

 

Why They Shouldn’t Close Down Social Media During Riots

At 6.30 pm this-evening, there will be a debate about David Cameron’s plan to turn off all social media sites during times of riot.  Yes, this measure may prevent people conspiring and communicating; arranging meeting places, and drumming up hysteria, which is a very important factor, but there are two very big reasons that I personally think social media should stay open for business at all times.

 

1.  EVIDENCE

After the event, there can surely be few more effective ways of catching hold of the perpetrators of crimes than having cold, hard evidence published on the internet.  A tweet saying; ‘Let’s meet at 4.00pm and throw a firework through Topshop’s window’, or a photograph on Facebook of a grinning hoodie, proudly brandishing his new trainers for all to see,  and the inevitable boastful comments that would accompany it, would undoubtedly be invaluable in securing enough evidence for conviction.  During the riots of the last few days, I heard Caitlin Moran describe this very idea as ‘Giving them enough rope to hang themselves’.

We will never compete with their vanity and short-sightedness, and all we need do is sit back and allow them to incriminate themselves.

 

2.  POSITIVE COMMUNICATION

Only those people who relied on Twitter throughout the riots this week will appreciate the inadequacies and shortcomings of the televised news services.  While Sky News and the BBC were playing down events, trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, and then when they eventually had to acknowledge it, showing hours-old footage, repeating the same limited cannon of clips, and creating a very limited perspective for viewers relying solely on television, some of us were on Twitter.  One only had to click on the hashtag #londonriots, and you were immediately inside the action.  People were tweeting from the streets, in the middle of what was going on, people were tweeting about what was going to happen before it did, so that the news spread across the internet, able to forewarn, and preclude.  Photographs were coming from journalists, live onto the Twitter newsfeed, reliable sources were sharing the experience with the world, ordinary people were able to ask for help, express their fear, and sadness, and unite.  It isn’t an exaggeration to say that on Twitter for those few nights the wartime spirit of the 1940’s was very much alive.  Matters were discussed, shared, and wholly illuminated and verified without bias.  There was no agenda to the information, and the sources provided photographs.  On the first night, before I’d even heard anything about it on the news, I lay in bed, glued to my Blackberry, until five in the morning, and I felt so immersed in the action, so much part of the London unity, that my own life and surroundings felt distant, and surreal.

I can never fully express just how important those few nights of shared communication were, to the people who needed help, and to feel part of a community.  To the people who were inside their homes, terrified, but comforted by the entire world, talking to them on Twitter, or those of us who were far away from London, and wanted to feel in-the-loop.  No amount of televised news coverage could have competed with the information shared on Twitter during the riots, and even in organising the clean-up process.  I hope the politicians make this a consideration in their decision.

Yes, people may have used the social media to organise, but an equal number of people were warned about where the violence was spreading, and were able to move away from the area, or pre-empt it.  I think, in this case, more good would be lost, by losing that valuable facility for communication, than harm prevented by stopping the conspirational organising.

 

 

A Pantomime for the Summer. Review: Merlin, Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre.

On Friday I concluded, definitively, that the perfect way to spend an English summer evening is in the park, with open air theatre, a basket full of food, and a blanket wrapped around you.  I spent another wonderful evening at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, this time to see Merlin and the Woods of Time.  The atmosphere inside the walls is beautiful; glasses of wine, picnic baskets, deck chairs, people snuggled in blankets, all as the sun is slowly sinking behind the trees, and the air is soft and chill.

The production opens in a burst of energy and laughter, with a full-scale theatrical number, musical ensemble, with the whole cast on stage (or should I say ‘On the bark chippings’?).  The laughter of the audience, in particular the children, pierced the air.  When the kazoos came out, and the cast began parading around, blowing them, it was hilarious, and you could hear children laughing unreservedly.  Every so often, throughout the performance, the quiet of the auditorium would ring with the mischievous chuckle of a child, clearly showing that the children not only followed the plot rapturously, but that they got the jokes as well.

Bright, rich costumes, and vividly coloured puppets created an exciting and vibrant feast for the eyes.  A clever device was used, in the form of two sports commentators (with stereotypical voices), who were extremely funny, and created a lot of energy, and, together with the rest of the cast, kept the performance highly dynamic.  The humour is hard to pigeon-hole, as it was mainly very family friendly, often decidedly so, but occasionally a line or gesture was thrown in that was unsuitable for the children in the audience, but hopefully went over their heads.  It wasn’t entirely child-suitable, but as a whole experience, it’s very family orientated.

The characters are larger than life, and make it a kind of pantomime, but with the alfresco freshness of Summer.  Mordred, for example, played wonderfully by Robert Mountford, enters with energy, boldness, and loudness.  Again, very cleverly funny.

Every so often a line, or gesture, absolutely lit me up with joy.  For example, Lancelot being described as; ‘A bilingual, metro-sexual fairy’, or the moment when a siren went past outside at the precise moment of David Hartley’s line; ‘It makes all sounds melodious’, with a small inclination of his head, which couldn’t have been better timed if it had been planned.

Robert Mountford had a tendency, being tall and dressed dramatically all in black, to steal each scene he was in, no less than his shining moment, for me, when he came in as though he’d been decapitated, with the costume making it look as though he were holding his head under his arm, and he began to dance, which was so delightfully funny.  The giggles of children and adults alike could be heard above the music.

Lancelot, played perfectly by Paul-Ryan Carberry, was a pompous, dense fop, but played with intelligent humour.

When I saw As You Like It last week, I fell in love with Rosie Jones and her Maxine Peake spunk.  This week, as Elaine in Merlin, she didn’t disappoint.  One of my very favourite moments of the night was when someone asked; ‘Would you like some wine?’, and Elaine replied; ‘I would not! I am having a pie’.  It was one of those beautiful Waynetta Slob moments, with perfect comedic timing.  The later scenes whirl up into a dizzying chaos, as potions are brewed and drunk, time is warped, and the stage is flooded with the entire cast.  Throughout one of the most chaotic scenes, Rosie Jones (or should I say ‘Elaine’?) is walking around the edge of the audience, hunched over, eating a pie that she has just fallen in love with, thanks to one of the potions, giving disgusted and aggressive glares at the audience members.

Natalie Grady, who plays Morgana, made two appearances as a seemingly unassuming cleaning lady, dressed in overalls and headscarf, singing the Vera Lynn song; We’ll Meet Again, which could be perfectly unremarkable moments in the production, but for Grady’s growling delivery, and northern tea-lady charm, which was hilarious.

Alan McMahon’s Merlin, a tall, spindly figure, was camp, dapper, and Leslie-Neilson-posh.  His delivery and performance were completely golden in terms of comedy, so beautifully effeminate, and twinkly-eyed, and nimble-limbed.  In terms of the funny lines, his delivery was spot-on.

Nicholas Asbury’s commentator injected high-energy comedy, usually installed just above the audience’s heads in the special commentator’s box, he was wickedly funny, and the scenes with Poor Dee The River Girl were hilarious, especially the fight with the White Knight.  Any time a man is wearing a platinum wig, and fighting another man twice his size, only good things will happen.

The finale is grand, with another large-scale musical number, which leaves you on a note of feel-good warmth and energy.  I got a real feeling that the cast love what they’re doing, and they want their audience to enjoy it.  As a production, Merlin feels very warm-hearted, with wit and pomp, and theatricality, but all in the bliss of a park on a summer night.

Another perfect evening in the park, it really is the only way to spend a summer evening in England.  Go, while you still can!

My Mum said she felt 'Pampered', what with the delicious picnic we'd brought, and the comfy striped cushions we were given by the lovely people on the ticket desk.

Review: As You Like It, Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre


Copyright Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre

Last night I spent a Summer’s evening amongst striped deckchairs and strawberries, at Grosvenor Park in Chester.  I’d gone to see As You Like It.  My expectations were somewhat mixed, because from outside the secluded, fort-like open air theatre, standing with the peasants in the park, the impression is of something quite unsavoury, almost like being at the back of a circus tent, or fairground.  When I walked in, however, I was immediately transported.  I was in a world of people sitting in deckchairs, or around the seating terraces, eating food and drinking glasses of wine that sparkled.  I was in a world of soft blankets around people’s shoulders, hampers from Carluccio’s (included with the VIP ticket), strawberries and clinking plates.  I was suddenly at ease, found a spot on the front row of the tiers, and settled into my meagre feast of strawberries, watermelon, and Pringles.  As the pleasant hum of conversation, and picnic-clinking babbled merrily along in the soft evening sun, no-one noticed a man enter the stage, until he spoke.  The audience was taken by surprise, mouths still full of pasta or, in one case, a carefully assembled Eton Mess, constructed from Tupperware with strawberries, ice-cream, and meringue in them.  Suddenly the performance had started, whether we were ready or not.

The Guardian described this production as; ‘Idylic’, and The Stage; ‘nigh on faultless’.  I can only reiterate those words.  It was a blissful experience.

After the initial abruptness of the opening, when the audience were caught on the back foot, following the initial exchange between Orlando and Oliver, which felt  absolutely fraternal, and something much more than just stage fighting, there was an intensity to the physical contact between the two actors that really felt like they were two brothers, the audience (I felt) was suddenly woken from the unsettled beginning by the startling entrance of Charles, the wrestler, played by Rob Compton.  Like a bright light, this Sid Vicious character with punk hair and black leather came in with such energy (and David Beckham looks), it was a shot in the arm.  He had wildness, a cockney accent, with a genuine blood-lust for his opponent, straight out of the Sex Pistols.  As Rob Compton displays a much softer side in later scenes, as other characters, his ferocity in this scene is really impressive .

Only two things, for me, stopped the production being perfect.  I wasn’t that keen on the stainless steel trees which are part of the set, and I think they would have worked much better in another material, perhaps more natural and realistic, even real trees.  The metallic effect is contemporary and modern, but in the middle of such beauty and the greenery of the park on a summer night, with the real trees hanging over the walls, the unnatural hardness of the stainless steel felt, to me, ugly.

The other thing, the only other thing, is the use of jeans as trousers for the men, an unnecessary incongruity, which (for me) spoiled the otherwise perfect costumes, which were elaborate, luxurious, and looked absolutely lived-in, and well-worn, and looked like real clothes, rather than costumes.

During the first few scenes I was actually preparing for disappointment from some of the performances.  In honesty, I was worried that some of the actors were going to be too weak to fill the shoes of previous productions that I’d seen.  Rosalind didn’t immediately appear to have the adequate substance and inner-metal that the character requires, and felt a bit too much of a girl and almost insubstantial.  Likewise, I didn’t feel Touchstone was ultra-quick-witted enough, compared with previous performances I’d seen, and he didn’t immediately seem to have the fast intelligence of the character, and instead felt a little bit petulant.  However, I’ve only expressed these feelings because after the first couple of scenes the actors seemed to have overcome whatever unease they felt at the start, and had really sunk into the roles, completely allaying my fears.  In the later scenes, they felt perfect.

One last niggle- I was disheartened that Le Beau, played by David Hartley, wasn’t French.  A lot of the jokes and other characters’ lines depend on Le Beau being outrageously and humorously French, and the lack of a French accent meant that those jokes didn’t work, and were lost, which is a shame.

Orlando, played adorably by David Ricardo-Pearce, was a really refreshing revelation.  He was quietly heroic, with a gentleness and softness, not aggressively masculine, which made for a really endearing portrayal of the character.

As Rosalind, played fantastically by Natalie Grady, transformed into Ganymede, she took on all of the gumption and substance that makes this female character an equal for the men.  She had joyfully adolescent lasciviousness and lusty growls when away from the men, which ascended to a beautiful dexterity when manipulating Orlando, so that you felt she was a real match for him.

There were moments of pure, stomach-tickling comedy, of the kind that Shakespeare would have created in his day, and which are often lost nowadays on an audience that doesn’t really speak the language they’re listening to.  One of these moments was created by Silvius, played by David Hartley.  His anguished screams of; ‘Phoebe’ from outside the theatre, perfectly timed, and hilarious, made sense of the references to him by Corin and Rosalind, which have been lost in other performances I’ve seen.

The next remarkable entrance was by Jaques, played by Nicholas Asbury as a kind of drunken Rik Mayall figure with a Young Ones voice, who made his first appearance taking gulps of the drinks of the front row of the audience.  His scene with the musicians, Rob Compton playing guitar, was absolutely uplifting, and their interaction was funny and heart-warming with pure joy.

Asbury’s interpretation of the famous ‘All the World’s a stage’ speech, perhaps one of Shakespeare’s best known, was delivered in a drunken and irreverent way, which made it lighter to experience, and refreshing, and not what one expects.  However, he never lacked the weight and poignant intensity that that speech requires, but managed to be  funny with it, although it could have had a little more depth of volume (perhaps ‘Boom’ is the right term).  Nicholas Asbury is cockle-warming and effervesces with comedy, to the point where it becomes exciting to watch.

In these later scenes Touchstone, played by Paul-Ryan Carberry, really revels in the role, and comes into his own.  If he started out a little weakly, in his later scenes, especially the verbal dual with Corin, he gave the character all the flourish and intelligence, and deep intensity of wit, that he so needs.  Touchstone has a particular kind of personality, and Carberry captures it perfectly.

The other entrance that produced, actually, one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre, was by Phebe.  I’ve played this character, and anticipated the portrayal in this production with baited breath, anxious that it should be done right.  Phebe, played magnificently by Rosie Jones, entered the space running flat-out, with utter determination and a blazing conviction in her eyes which was so beautifully hilarious.  If the expression ‘eyes ablaze’ should ever be used, it’s now.  Rosie Jones, with that spunky northern fire perfected by Maxine Peake in her formidable female roles, played Phebe like one of the Furies.  The speech where she’s describing Ganymede to Silvius, juxtaposing positives with negatives, grew and grew into a schizophrenic dichotomy, and she went from being torn between like and dislike, to a real mental tearing-apart, a meltdown.  The performance was given so much energy, aggression, and passion, that the audience applauded, though with reluctant uncertainty because of overlapping the next character’s entrance, and the actors had to take a pause because the audience felt so compelled to give Rosie Jones commendation in applause.

The whole experience was just beautiful, from the perfectly English complexions of the women on stage, to the perfect pitching of the humour and music.  It was enthralling, uplifting, dazzling to the eye, and absolutely warming to the heart.  I can’t recommend it enough, as a complete experience.


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day


Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

Share book reviews and ratings with Vikki, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

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